The difference between Brandin Podziemski’s height and wingspan is a mere half inch.
Having a plus-0.5 wingspan isn’t typically a bullish indicator of a player’s ability to survive and thrive on both ends. It especially doesn’t help on defense, where length is the main currency. With height that doesn’t help him see past taller and lengthier defenders — with ho-hum athleticism, to boot — the difficulty level in being tasked to handle the ball and create plays for himself and others is cranked up a notch for Podziemski.
But somehow, someway, he’s meeting the challenges that preseason has thrown at him with plenty of promise. He’s answering questions that were asked of him upon being drafted and after playing in Summer League, while at the same time forcing a question that needs to be answered soon: Will Podziemski surpass the injured Cory Joseph as the Golden State Warriors’ third-string point guard?
It may be unfair for that to happen until Joseph shows what he can do on the court. After all, he does have the experience advantage, while also having played in a similar offensive scheme early in his career with the San Antonio Spurs. A steady veteran hand may be what’s needed after last season’s moments of youth and unnecessary audacity.
On the other hand, Podziemski has shown plenty of audacity, albeit balanced with control and without the unnecessary fluff that typically accompanies a young player, much less a rookie such as him. He always seems to be in control of possessions, which minimizes mistakes and maximizes opportunities to create advantages on the floor.
Which begs another question — perhaps the most important of them all: Despite the lack of outlier burst, athleticism, and physical advantages, how exactly is Podziemski getting to the paint at will?
You must’ve noticed by now that Podziemski seems to have a gift for touching the paint, collapsing the defense, and creating plenty of advantages. It’s easy to see the end product — either a layup for him, a dump off to someone in the dunker spot, a skip pass to the weak side for an open corner shooter, or even an open floater against drop coverage.
But again, the *how* is equally intriguing to watch. The short answer: Podziemski is a crafty operator at the point of attack who has a knack for manipulating his defender in a way that they’ll always be behind the play and in a position of disadvantage — i.e., they will almost always have to scramble to recover, if given a chance and window to do it in the first place.
The ability to manipulate is helped by the fact that Podziemski is a pull-up threat at the point of attack. Although it has yet to fully manifest in the preseason — and was largely absent during Summer League — defenders have found Podziemski’s college pedigree as an outside threat (he shot 43.8% on 5.8 attempts from beyond the arc in his lone season with Santa Clara University) difficult to ignore.
It has resulted in hard closeouts, which Podziemski has attacked with no hesitation to get paint touches and put defenses in rotation:
Another key trait that Podziemski has that not a lot of young ball-handlers his age possess: an understanding of pace, tempo, and cadence.
It’s no secret that the Warriors like to play fast, even in half-court situations. They employ plenty of early offense sets that aim to catch defenses falling asleep, even in situations where they get back on defense after scoring.
“Quick” action is one such early offense set that involves a wide screen for someone to cut toward the ball at the top of the arc. Several variations of “Quick” exist; one of the more common ones the Warriors call out is the “Dribble” variant, where the man coming off of the wide screen receives the pass and quickly hands it back to the initial ball-handler (a maneuver called “Get” action).
Podziemski’s ability to fit in within the Warriors’ fast-tempo mantra but quickly downshifting to a more controlled pace has allowed him to get into the paint to create advantages. Nifty footwork and an impressive well of patience have also helped:
Podziemski has an innate knowledge of how to use screens to his advantage, which offsets any lack of burst he may have at the point of attack. Coupled with defenders always having to put an extra bit of ball pressure due to his pull-up chops, he finds ways to blow by, attract help from the weak side, and find the open man on the kick-out.
Another “Quick” variant — “Quick 55,” where the recipient of the wide screen sets a ball screen with the wide screener setting another ball screen behind him — allows Podziemski to reject the screens and attack his man with a right-left crossover. His defender, anticipating that Podziemski will make use of the screens, get caught leading with his left foot and is blown by.
That forces the low man on the weak side to step up and help in the paint — which is what Podziemski wants to happen:
A significant reason why Podziemski has been seeing heavy minutes this preseason — aside from being the beneficiary of the Joseph injury — is his willingness to blend in and keep the action flowing. Rarely does he desire to stagnate; with the ball, he gives it up quickly to make sure it touches as many hands as possible. Without it, he screens, cuts, relocates, and flashes toward several spots on the floor, with the faith that it’ll eventually find its way back to him in a position of greater advantage — such as in the paint:
Whenever he does find himself with the ball in his hands, he maximizes the opportunity to create efficient offense. A simple jab step, for example, manipulates his defender into having to navigate from a less-than-ideal position. Another paint touch is created, and a pass to a cutting teammate along the baseline is the result:
Primary ball handlers who crash the boards can push the pace in transition and get to the paint before the rest of the defense can be set. Podziemski has a history of hauling in missed shots — he averaged 8.8 rebounds with Santa Clara, which led the West Coast Conference last season despite his size.
He’s averaging 6.0 rebounds in three games so far. His effort on the boards has had a direct correlation with his ability to get to the paint:
In a more measured half-court setting, Podziemski’s development into an in-between scoring threat — that is, mid-range jumpers and/or floaters — is paramount to his overall development as an offensive player. If defenses opt to play drop coverage against him, it’s important that he makes them pay for their coverage decisions.
In two-man action with fellow rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis, for example, Podziemski is practically gifted the mid-range. If the floater is there consistently, drop coverage will become even more untenable than it already is for a pull-up threat such as him:
The next time you find yourself wondering how Podziemski creates paint touches so naturally, it’s by no means a product of magic or luck. He has polish that belies his status as a rookie, a combination of fundamentals and feel that isn’t all that common among young NBA players.
The next step in his development is building the confidence to score from outside and fulfilling his billing as a pull-up threat. So far, his paint creation is painting a picture of a burgeoning inside-out threat; adding an outside-in component would turn him into a bona fide impact player.
If that comes to fruition, he will easily saunter his way toward Steve Kerr’s rotation — as easily as he saunters his way toward the paint.